And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 10. november 2014

Flores Historiarum, pt. V - Danish responses to the call for crusade

 The Scandinavian effort in the history of the Crusades is an aspect often overlooked in the more general overviews of this movement, which was such a central feature in medieval Christian thought. However, academics have recently paid much attention to the crusades launched by Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, and there is currently exciting research being done about the Swedish crusades in the Baltics, and the Norwegian king Sigurd Jorsalfare's (c.1090-1130) sojourn to Palestine from 1108-11. That Scandinavian monarchs and noblemen took part in the crusader movement is only to be expected, as this was an aspect of kingship virtually every Christian ruler had to take into consideration – whether to participate, to fund or to stay away from it.

Three knights, illustration picture
MS Royal 20 D II, Roman de Tristan, France, c.1300
Courtesy of British Library
In this blogpost, I wish to present two descriptions of how Danes responded to calls for crusade, as recorded by authors outside Denmark. The first description is taken from the short crusader narrative Profectio Danorum in Hierosolymam, “The leave-taking of the Danes for Jerusalem”. The book recounts a joint Danish-Norwegian crusader expedition prompted by a papal call for crusade following the loss of Jerusalem in 1187. The author of Profectio is now believed to have been a Norwegian Augustinian canon, and the work was likely written on the behest of a member of the Danish high clergy or nobleman some time after 1192.

As the title suggests, the book is predominantly concerned with the journey to the Holy Land, not the crusaders’ effort in the war against the Muslims. This is because the crusaders came too late and arrived in Palestine after the peace treaty had been signed and the Third Crusade was over. This may have caused some embarrassment to the surviving participants, and the author of Profectio goes to great lengths in depicting the hazards at sea and death by drowning as the crusaders’ imitatio Christi.

Profectio is in many ways an interesting book, and I hope to return to it in future blogposts. What concerns me here, however, is the author’s representation of the piety of the Danish nobles, and their response to the papal call to arms which they received at Odense during King Knud’s celebration of the Nativity. The following excerpt from chapter IV is a translation from the Norwegian by Astrid Salvesen:

Ship with a cross - has nothing to do with crusade in its literary context
MS Egerton 3028, Roman de Brut, 2nd quarter of the 14th Century
Courtesy of British Library
The king and all those who sat around him then started to weep and moan so that they could not speak a word, and so deep was this great sorrow that not one of them was able to give a reply. Finally they came to themselves, breathed more slowly and broke the silence – such often happens when one learns of grand and unexpected events. But they had to be encouraged and exhorted before they could agree on who should answer these messengers, who were as splendidly dressed as their message was tragic.

This kind of lachrymose piety is repeated a couple of times as some of the nobles renew their commitment to the crusade, and the author is careful to depict his protagonists as true Christians. As suggested above, this depiction was perhaps all the more needful in light of the crusaders’ ultimate failure to provide help.

Crusaders reaching the their destination, but not too late
MS Royal 19 D I, Historia de proeliis, translated into French, France, c.1340 (after 1333)
Courtesy of British Library
A rather different, more tongue-in-cheek depiction of the Danish response to a papal call for crusade, can be found in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum, written in the 1120s and -30s. In the fourth book of his work, William is chiefly preoccupied with the first crusade and he commends the efficacy with which it was preached. As a measure of its effectiveness, he includes a short summary of the effects it had on the remotest corners of Latin Christendom.

Then the Welsh relinquished his woodland hunting, the Scot the intimacy of his fleas, the Dane his continuous drinking, and the Norwegian his raw fish.

- From Gesta Regum Anglorum, Book 4, chapter 348
, my translation

Indeed, for these inhabitants of Christendom’s peripheries
to give up their favourite pastimes and nourishment, the call for crusade must have been very powerful.

Crusaders, possibly as lost as our Danish-Norwegian protagonists from Profectio
MS Royal 16 G VI, Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, France, after 1332, before 1350
Courtesy of British Library

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